Celebrating 10 years of the Writer in Residence program
2020 was a momentous year for Athabasca University (AU): not only were we celebrating AU’s 50th anniversary, but also celebrated 10 years of the Writer in Residence program.
The Writer in Residence program invites acclaimed Canadian artists to spend 60% of their residency working on their own writing projects, and the other 40% as a resource for learners, faculty, and the university community. Authors such as Esi Edugyan, a Scotiabank Giller Prize winter in 2011 and 2018, Stephen Heighton, recipient of the 2016 Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and Katherena Vermette who was a recipient of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. These authors are just a few of the wide array of Canadian voices and stories that have been brought to the AU community over the past 10 years.
“For ten years now, AU’s Writer in Residence program has been supporting emerging and established authors and bringing the AU community into conversation with them and their work,” says acting program chair and AU English prof Mark A. McCutcheon. “The program furthers AU’s mission by making literary expertise available to aspiring writers among AU students, staff, and the wider public.”
2020-2021 Writer in Residence
Our current Writer in Residence is Joshua Whitehead, who is an Oji-nêhiyaw, Two-Spirit member of Peguis First Nation. He is the author of full-metal indigiqueer (Talonbooks 2017) which was shortlisted for the inaugural Indigenous Voices Award; his debut novel Jonny Appleseed won the Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction in 2019; and his latest work has just been published by Arsenal Pulp: Love After the End is an edited anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer speculative fiction. During his writing residency, Whitehead is working on a book of creative non-fiction entitled Making Love with the Land that details mental health, queerness, and Indigeneity.
The writer's perspective
We are fortunate enough that 10 prestigious and diverse writers have graced our virtual walls—their mentorship has helped writers’ work change from lists of ideas, to full-fledged work. Over the 10 years, the Writers in Residence have freshened their perspectives and shown their gratitude to the thing they love: writing.
“It was a great privilege to serve as writer in residence for Athabasca University--as it has been in the past when I served in that position for other universities. Editing and mentoring other writers is not only valuable work; it's also, at least for me, gratifying. Writing is a lonely business--don't let anyone tell you otherwise. So when I get the chance to engage with the work of other writers, I feel less isolated and also happy to be of use to someone who is at a stage I have passed through myself. Here's hoping the next decade of digital writer-residencies goes well for AU.”– Steven Heighton: 2019-20 Writer in Residence
“I think there’s so much about writing that can be taught. I have learned so much from others, and hope I can do the same for someone else. I am a big believer in passion over talent. I don’t believe in talent. I think it’s completely subjective. One person’s talent is another person’s hack. I also don’t think there’s a special magical thing that makes one person a writer, but rather, it’s many, many things, and mostly just a whole lotta hard work. ”– Katherena Vermette: 2018-19 Writer in Residence
“Being the Athabasca University Writer in Residence was so much fun because it was all online. I feel that we were able to support many writers who could not make it into Edmonton. I would do this again in a heartbeat. Mahsi cho. Thank you so much.”– Richard Van Camp: 2017-18 Writer in Residence
“The Writer in Residence Program was a boon to me in some surprising ways. Not only did it encourage me to clarify some of my own ideas, but it gave me the opportunity to share these efforts with the smart and sympathetic souls at the University. The financial compensation was a boon of another kind, and I am deeply grateful for it. I sincerely hope I was able to offer some useful guidance and encouragement to those students who shared their work with me. These are precious acts of trust and exchange. ”– John Vaillant: 2016-17 Writer in Residence
“I’m someone who can’t help but comment on the bigger picture as well. Even if you’re asking about the voice of a piece, or the tense of a piece—everything is interconnected. So you’re going to get feedback on the piece as a whole, as well as the specific items you’re asking about. ”– Esi Edugyan: 2015-16 Writer in Residence
“One of the hardest steps an emerging writer often makes is getting in touch with established authors for practical and emotional support. Writing is a solitary activity, and often a lonely and bewildering one, so programs such as the AU Writer-in-Residency can be of critical importance in building a strong literary community. Moreover, from the WIR point-of-view, the opportunity to assist other writers while also earning a regular paycheque for a while is of invaluable benefit. ”– Tim Bowling: 2013-14 Writer in Residence
“Serving as a writer-in-residence at Athabasca University was such an honour and privilege. The residency made it possible for me to work on my first graphic novel manuscript. Nine years have passed and we have arrived in 2021, and this very project, Shadow Life, illustrated by Ann Xu, will be published with First Second Books. Seeing the fruits of our labour can take a long time. Writing takes a long time. It is a profound honour to be able to work with other writers on their projects, as they journey forward on their writing path. I think of them, and feel such respect for their commitment to their craft and the futures they will unfold through their art. Arigatai desu. ”– Hiromi Goto: 2012-13 Writer in Residence
“Writing is always tough, and you do much of it in isolation … It’s also very personal. I can’t write for people, but I can offer the good, honest, supportive advice that’s required of any mentor.”– Tololwa M. Mollel: 2011-12 Writer in Residence
Love writing and want feeback? Email the Writer in Residence
Do you have a piece of writing that you want professional feedback on? You can submit your draft writing for our Writer in Residence to read and critique. (See the official submission guidelines on the Writer and Residence page.) This is a great opportunity to better your writing and chat with an award-winning author.